Kelsie Hendry sits on a bench in an open foyer at Tommy Douglas Collegiate and glances around at her new surroundings.
Her pole has been exchanged for a pen. Her runway, now meant solely for walking, is the halls of the building.
Hendry starts her first day of school as a full-time English and history teacher on Tuesday.
The 2008 Olympic pole vaulter is retiring and beginning a new career.
“I loved my track career.
It was an exciting time and it was a good, long run,” the Saskatoon native says. “I’m excited because I think I’m going to be really busy being a new teacher, but I’m sure I’m going to miss (competition).”
After a roller-coaster 14 months, the transition from the track to the classroom just made sense.
A little more than a year ago, her athletic career was trending sky-high.
Hendry set the Canadian women’s record by clearing 4.60 metres at an indoor event in Arizona in February 2012.
The former Saskatchewan Huskie and three-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion had a clear goal: to not just compete in London at her second Olympics, but to reach the final.
She needed only to clear 4.40 metres twice or 4.50 once at the Canadian Olympic trials in Calgary last June. Instead, she faulted three times at 4.20 metres and her Olympic dreams were dashed.
“It was difficult that year because I was having such a strong year,” Hendry says. “I did the best I have ever done. I felt like I was in the best shape. I thought I was the most consistent.
“And then it felt like my whole world fell apart that day.”
That’s when she went back to the drawing board.
She didn’t want that one moment to define her pole vaulting career. Hendry vowed to compete for another year, but with a new purpose.
Her mindset was that she wasn’t going to be bogged down by height standards or others’ expectations. She was continuing on in an effort to renew her love for the sport.
Ideally, she was hoping to jump in the world track and field championship, held earlier this month in Russia. But she failed to post a height at the Canadian championship and didn’t qualify. That’s when she essentially made up her mind to walk away.
“I was crushed when I didn’t make the Olympics. But there weren’t any tears when I didn’t go to worlds,” Hendry says. “I said, ‘OK, this is a sign.'” Because she was the only competitor at the event who had ever cleared the standard height, she could have appealed the decision and possibly competed in Russia.
However, knowing that a medal wasn’t likely in the cards, she opted against doing so.
Her sister, Brittany, gave birth to a baby boy, Jackson, at the beginning of the month and she was able to spend time with them. She went to Europe with her cousin for a vacation before getting settled at Tommy Douglas this week.
“There are so many great things that came out of my pole vaulting career,” the 31-year-old says. “The different people I met, the different places that I’ve been able to go. I know I’m going to miss that so much.
“But it’s time for me to move into that phase where I can build a life in one place and still do something that I’m passionate about.”
Having earned her degree in education at the U of S, Hendry has been a substitute teacher in the city over the past few years. She trained in Arizona under Greg Hull, but returned to Saskatoon each fall.
Bruce Craven thinks she’ll be great at her new job.
Craven has known Hendry since she was 14. Hendry, then a gymnast, needed some physiotherapy for her back and went to Craven’s clinic, which he runs with his wife, Karen.
Hendry would win a silver medal at the 1995 Canada Winter Games on the balance beam.
The determination she’s shown throughout her athletic career should be inspirational for her students, Craven says.
“You have to bounce back and take the lessons learned and apply it to the process (in the classroom),” he says.
“Look at Kelsie. She’s had the success of qualifying … the (distinction) of being the best pole vaulter in Canada that year and then noheighting at Olympic trials, but then coming back.”
Hendry says competing in her first Olympic Games in Beijing was one of her biggest highlights.
However, being able to work with a team that includes Craven, Hull and Saskatoon-based sports psychologist Kevin Spink was something that she’ll never forget.
“I hope that I can have a relationship like that with my students. I had a lot of good people that let me be an athlete for as long as I could,” she says, fighting back tears and counting her mom, Gail, among her inspirations.
“I shouldn’t be crying because I need to be prepared (for school),” she adds quickly, with a laugh.
Hendry hasn’t completely ruled out returning to the sport with the Commonwealth Games taking place next year.
But with her pen and books in hand, she’s at peace with making the halls her new runway.
“I feel bad about leaving the sport, but I think if I really wanted to I could always go back,” she says. “You have to move on at some point. You can’t be an athlete forever. It was fun while it lasted. Now I guess it’ll be a new chapter.”